Quaker Universalist Voice

Speaking truth in the global public square…

Insight for Nations and Us

A Book Review of Jared Diamond, Upheaval (2019)

Jared Diamond, Upheaval (2019) offers a guidance model for nations based on the experience of individuals in dealing with intractable challenges.  The author’s basic insight for the reader is that there is a valid analogy between personal life management and community life management at the human level and that the link between the two is human agency.

Diamond argues that science, anthropology, and the cultural experience of humans in their personal lives and crises provide a pathway for nations in their community life and crises.  The steps in self-management include parallel mechanisms for addressing a problem:

  1. Acknowledging the problem and human vulnerabilities affected;
  2. Recognizing the resources to do something about the problem;
  3. Assessing the related experience of others; and
  4. Identifying the areas needing change and preservation.

Diamond used the examples of Finland in dealing with relationships with Russia, the modernization of Japan after Admiral Perry, Indonesia and communist revolts, and Chile during the presidency of Salvador Allende in providing guidance models for nations.

Diamond could take a step further.  He could frame the analogy a step further to global issues between states, beyond internal national issues. He leaves these international steps to reader discernment.  He misses drawing the universalist conclusion supported by his analysis.  But, he has taken an important step in that direction.

The analogy risks are great.  We all know these risks in our personal lives.  It should be the same for our national lives and our global lives.  At all three levels (personal, national and global), there are tenuous controls with which to manage the experience. That is why we need preemptive development of institutional mechanisms to aid nations in these important processes

Quakers: There are no direct references to Quakers in this book.  But, this book provides  a powerful testimony for the practical application of the link between faith and practice through a process of discernment supported by institutional frameworks.


  • Is the thesis of projecting individual psychological experience into national contexts sound or a distraction from reality? 
  • Is the Diamond analysis and testimony more than a rich simplification?
  • Is the Diamond analysis  fundamentally true to reality in Quaker experience?
  • Is there a better model for community management than that offered by Diamond?


  • Jared Diamond, Upheaval (2019)
  • L. Wener, Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World (2018)
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